Reeling in Corporate Interests on Workers’ Comp


For years, big business has sought a work-around so it could be rid of state workers’ compensation programs in an effort to pocket just a little more cash. That effort has jeopardized scores of employees injured on the job in places like Texas and Oklahoma.

But now, even some state authorities have admitted they’ve gone too far. The Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission recently ruled that a state law allowing companies to opt-out of workers’ comp and write their own plans was unconstitutional. And several Southern states expected to enact legislation for such a system have instead at least temporarily halted such efforts.

Companies such as Walmart, Sysco, Safeway, Whole Foods, Lowe’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom and others have been at the forefront of pushing for the ability to opt-out of workers’ comp. But in its decision last month, the Oklahoma commission noted that the state’s opt-out law had created an unlevel playing field by allowing companies to create their own plans, and that workers were paying the price.

This came as no surprise to presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders and nine other members of Congress who last fall signed onto a letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez asking him to strengthen oversight of state workers’ compensation programs. As they noted:

“A March 2015 study by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that employers now cover only about 20% of the overall costs of a workplace injury, with the workers themselves, their families, and their private health insurance covering nearly 63% of the costs, and taxpayer-supported safety-net programs covering the remaining,” they said.

Workers injured on the job cannot be shunted aside by corporations who no longer have any use for them. It is unfair to them and it is unfair to the nation at large who too often are left to shoulder the financial burden of those who can no longer work and aren’t receiving proper coverage from their employer.

As the Teamsters noted in its Let’s Get America Working platform, workers’ rights and protections are important to ensuring this is a nation that benefits all of its citizens, not just business interests. It’s good to see some are realizing the error of their ways.